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In a chaotic and turbulent Schalke season, consistently standing out and improving throughout the campaign has been a tough thing to do.
The struggles Max Meyer has endured have been emblematic of the flux in and around the club, but one player who has ascended to a higher plane like no other in the squad is Sead Kolašinac.
Circumstances have been tough, but the Bosnian has soared beyond expectation and grown into one of the league’s, and indeed Europe’s, finest players in his position.
Kolašinac started only the first of Schalke’s opening five Bundesliga matches, all of which ended in defeat, with Chelsea loanee Abdul-Rahman Baba generally preferred for the left back role.
It must be said that Baba’s performances were among the few encouraging things about the start to the year, but it is no coincidence that results picked up almost the instant that Kolašinac was reinstated to the side.
An extra aiding factor for the team and Kolašinac himself was the switch to 3-5-2 from the match against RB Salzburg onwards. The system change helped balance out the side at the time and Kolašinac seized his chance.
The wing back position suits Kolašinac and his attributes perfectly. His defensive style is primarily on the front foot, preferring to push out into tackles and make interceptions high up, and his excellent recovery pace acted as his barrier in cases of being caught.
Perhaps the most instantly eye-catching aspect of Kolašinac is his physique and the physical side of his game.
As my father would phrase it, he is ‘built like the proverbial brick outhouse,’ with fantastic speed and strength which, in combination with his intelligence, positioning and forever-full-blooded approach makes him a formidable prospect one-on-one for wingers to go against.
Direct into duels with strong timing and awareness, and while not reliant on his recovery pace, very much content in the fact that he can use it to see him through the trickier situations, his defensive play leaves next to no cause for concern.
The upswing in his attacking contribution, though, has perhaps been what has put him on the radar of the bigger sides more than anything else; the three goals and five assists are impressive, but watching his contribution and the effect he has on his team show the full range of strings he has to his bow.
Those physical qualities and the intelligence shown on the defensive side are complemented further by his implementation of them and adaptability at the other end, but with a further displaying of what he can offer technically.
There is a rough edge to his crossing – it may take a few failed attempts before he gets one right – but the relentlessness of his forward forays mean the extra bites of the cherry are usually forthcoming.
There is an unconventional element to Kolašinac, especially going forward. He is an improviser, and difficult to categorise within a single style because he is so capable of changing with one move to the next.
There is such variety in every aspect of his attacking play, as his technical ability allows him to provide a range of crosses and in turn act as a goal threat himself at points.
His runs are unpredictable, offering width and a narrow threat as the situations call for it, and keeping up with him or getting the ball off him can be most enviable of tasks for opposition defenders.
His ball-playing and often smart decision-making in the attacking third are notable, but then further from that right through his game – possibly what makes him so much of what he is – is an unending determination and bloody-mindedness.
It showed in his reaction to having to fight for his place, and his contributions to goals. The assist at Wolfsburg, the equalisers against Darmstadt and RB Leipzig, the winner against Mainz – and defensive efforts like the magnificent game-saving block in the Derby against Borussia Dortmund in October, just to name a few examples, have come at decisive moments.
As his contract expires at the end of the season, speculation has naturally been rife as to his future.
Recent rumours have linked him most strongly to Arsenal, which makes sense given the problems at left back this season, although there can be a few worries as to how his style may clash with Héctor Bellerín’s on the opposite side.
Whether he stays at Schalke or takes an offer from elsewhere, Kolašinac has everything to become truly superb, and is certainly on the way there already.
If he stays, Schalke may have clinched something of a coup; if he leaves for nothing, someone else might just lay claim to the steal of the summer.
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